Grief as a Companion

Disbelief becomes my close companion, and anger follows in its wake.”- Maya Angelou

Grief is not choosy about the type of loss it follows. It is a response to a traumatic event related to a loss. This can be a death-related loss, miscarriage, loss of a job, property, health, end of a relationship, and many other losses one can experience.

It is often characterised by various experiences that range from overwhelming emotions like anger, sadness, numbness to a host of other physical reactions like sleep difficulty, loss of appetite, loss of energy, avoidance of activities especially those that remind you of the loss. This can also affect other areas of a person’s life like their spirituality, work/school life, social activities, and relationship with others. There is also the possibility of experiencing other forms of mental distress like anxiety, depression, and stress.

The Individualisation of Coping Mechanisms

In Nigeria, there is a culture that addresses pain and joy from a collectivistic point of view. We often come together to lament a loss, spending time together when the loss is the death of a loved one. But in the quiet of our hearts and rooms, when the people who have surrounded us for a time leave, what happens to us?

Often, people feel pressure to present a healed face to the world following a trauma, putting pressure on themselves to present as okay while beating themselves up for still going through the healing process at their own pace. Grief is personal. Being able to identify your feelings and stay with them, is you coping. Acknowledging a loss and how it makes you feel, is coping.

Some however, do experience complicated grief. In such cases, the feelings of grief do not subside with time and continue to affect an individual’s routine and activities. This can affect a person’s ability to focus and to deal with the loss. In severe situations, they may engage in destructive behaviors that sees them stay in a loop of grief, shying away from the coping mechanisms that can see them learn to live with or even heal from the loss.

Stages of Grief and Non-Linearity

Grief is not the enemy. Elizabeth Kubler-Ross came up with some stages of grief, that can help you deal with a loss. Denial which is the state of shock, where we struggle to come to terms with the event. Anger towards people, God or anything surrounding the loss. Bargaining is the state of ‘what ifs’ and negotiation with God to undo the loss. Depression is where all the feelings dawn on us and we start experiencing the grief and the emotions it comes with. Acceptance is where one comes to terms with the loss and the new reality without the lost person/event/ or thing.

This not a linear process where one experiences all these stages one after the other. Some people, experience all the stages, and some people only go through a few of the stages. But the thing with grief is, it may likely always be there and that is okay. We can learn to live with it, positively.

Creating alternate memories about the loss where we focus on our positive experience with the deceased or the loss. Hanging on to memories and items that remind us of good times. Marking anniversaries where we remember the loss in a good way. Learning new things that can form a coping mechanism for us. There are so many ways to deal with grief, but what is most important is that you create these ways for yourself. That you own your grief and not let it consume you. And seek therapy when you recognise that it is causing major distress and interrupting your functioning.

Normalising Grief Through Art

And importantly, we need more stories that normalise grief and seeking therapy. Books and films that personalise grief, guides people towards seeing how unique and also common their struggles are. Examples are An Unusual Grief, Yewande Omotoso and A Small Silence, Jumoke Verissimo. It keeps people informed on what ways to explore positive coping mechanisms and normalise seeking help. It humanises grief and our experiences with it.

If you are in Abuja, Nigeria and you need to speak to a counsellor for free, with no credit charges, dial 112.

Written by Aisha Bubah, Lead Psychologist, The Sunshine Series for Cassava Republic Press.

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